Photographers' Blog

Fukushima’s children

Fukushima Prefecture, Japan

By Toru Hanai

It will soon be the third anniversary of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

I myself live in Tokyo, more than a three-hour drive away. Right after the disaster, I too bought bottled water both to drink and to use around the house. Now, however, I drink from the tap without thinking about it.

As the anniversary of the nuclear accident approached, I found myself wondering what life has been like for the people of Fukushima, especially the children, whose lives are still directly affected by it.

So I visited Koriyama city in Fukushima prefecture, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) west of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Until last year, Koriyama recommended that children aged 0-2 should not spend more than 15 minutes a day outside and those aged 3-5 should not be outdoors for more than 30 minutes. Even now, some nurseries voluntarily continue to use these limits after the official recommendations were relaxed.

Uncovering Nuclear Britain

By Suzanne Plunkett

It sounds like the road trip from hell: a journey around all Britain’s functioning nuclear power stations.

After all, when the UK has so much to offer the traveller – from the bright lights of London to the ancient ruins of Stonehenge – why would anyone go out of their way to visit the far-flung places where the country has stowed its grim industrial reactor halls?

Memories of the Fukushima and Chernobyl meltdowns don’t help. For all its green credentials, nuclear energy seems forever tainted by the consequences of its few disasters. Thoughts of abandoned cities, stark yellow and black hazard symbols and the sickening effects of leaking radiation are never far away.

The samurai and survivors of Fukushima

Fukushima, Japan

By Damir Sagolj

Shortly after the mandatory evacuation was announced on television, Fumio Okubo put on his best clothes and his daughter-in-law served up his favorite dinner. By morning, the 102-year-old was dead. He had hanged himself before dawn.

GALLERY: BROKEN LIVES OF FUKUSHIMA

A rope knitted from plastic bags is certainly not a tanto knife. Nor was his death a dramatic one, with the public in attendance and blood all around but what an old farmer did that morning recalls the act of a samurai in ancient times – to die with honor. Okubo, who was born and lived his entire life between Iitate’s rice fields and cedar trees, wanted to die in his beautiful village, here and nowhere else.

For most people on Japan’s eastern coast – at least for those survivors who lost nobody and nothing – the true horror of the powerful earthquake and tsunami it triggered was over quickly. But for many unfortunate souls in otherwise prosperous Fukushima prefecture, March 11, 2011 was just the start of what for me is one of the most heart-rending stories I have ever covered outside the misery of the developing world.

The quiet of a nuclear beach

Iwaki, Japan

By Issei Kato

“I have to arrive at the beach before it starts raining.” This is what I was thinking as I drove up to the Fukushima coast, less than 35 km (21 miles) from the crippled nuclear plant. Because the weather forecast said it was going to rain in the region, I had packed a waterproof kit for my camera and beach gear so I could be ready to photograph the beach.

Iwaki city, located just 40 km (24 miles) south of the plant, had declared nearby Yotsukura beach open to the public this summer, the first time since a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. But, during the period between July 15 and August 18, when the beach was open to the public, the operator of the plant admitted that contaminated water was leaking out to the ocean. Government officials said 300 tonnes of radioactive water was probably flowing out to the sea every day.

Most of Japan’s beaches are controlled by the local government, which holds official opening ceremonies during the summer months and assigns lifeguards to patrol the beach. Residents and visitors can go to the beach during the off-season too, but it is usually less crowded. I went to the beach just after the open season had ended, thinking there would still be about 100 residents enjoying the sun, even though it was weekday, because the summer holiday season had still not ended.

Fishing in Fukushima

Hirono town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan

By Issei Kato

After some tough negotiations with local fishermen cooperatives I was allowed on board a fishing boat sailing out to check fish radioactive contamination levels in waters off the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Commercial fishing has been banned near the tsunami-crippled complex since the March 11, 2011 tsunami and earthquake disaster. The only fishing that still goes on is tied to contamination research carried out by small-scale fishermen contracted by the government. The fishermen set out to sea every two weeks remembering the good old days, as they seek to reestablish their livelihoods and anxiously hope they will be able to go back to full-time fishing again.

I began thinking about the best way to take as many versatile pictures as possible in a tough environment – on a tiny boat which is slippery and keeps rocking back and forth with waves of water splashing all over the bouncing deck. I was told that the fishermen were going to use gill nets which take up quite a bit of space on the deck. This spelled out more dangers and obstacles for my equipment and I, as I knew I would have to try hard not to get caught up in the nets or trip up and fall into the sea. I was worried that had I stepped on one of the nets I would get scolded by a gruff fishermen and the whole effort would be in vein because of my own thoughtlessness.

I decided to use a remotely operated camera on a monopod to take close-up pictures of the fishing net overlooking the boat. This unusual technique also enabled me to take dynamic photos from right above the water surface as well as under water. I attached my favorite Canon EOS5D Mk3 to the top of a monopod, across a ball head platform to avoid image rotation. I covered it with plastic waterproof material and connected a remote switch with a long cable to the camera to operate it from the safety of the deck.

Seaside nuclear power

Omaezaki, Japan

By Toru Hanai

Chubu Electric Power Co.’s Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station in Japan is located at water level next to a beach. It is also widely reported to be one of the world’s most dangerous nuclear plants as it sits close to a major fault line – not unlike the one that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

I had an offer of an exclusive tour of Chubu Nuclear Power Station where an 18-meter (60 ft) high and 1.6 km (1 mile) long tsunami defense wall has been built at a cost of $1.3 billion.

Being located beachside I immediately thought of basing the main photo for this trip on this famous “ukiyoe” print by the artist Hokusai:

Destination Fukushima: Two years on

Fukushima, Japan

By Issei Kato

“Let’s put our hearts together and keep going, Fukushima!” reads a large banner that hangs across a large steel structure that stands next to the No. 4 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.

The plant was overwhelmed by a massive tsunami and earthquake two years ago, triggering hydrogen explosions and a nuclear meltdown.

I was at the Fukushima site for the second time on Wednesday, ahead of the two year anniversary of the March 11 tsunami and earthquake, as a pool photographer, taking pictures of the crippled plant on behalf of foreign media based in Japan. This time, I was struck by how many more workers were on-site and the large number of tanks filled with contaminated water scattered around the area.

Inside the world’s biggest nuclear plant

Kashiwazaki, Japan

By Kim Kyung-hoon

“Sleeping nuclear giants” – That was my first impression when I visited the world’s biggest nuclear power station, Kashiwazaki Kariwa power plant in Japan’s Niigata Prefecture.

GALLERY: IMAGES FROM THE PLANT

With seven reactors which can produce a total of 8,212 megawatts of electricity, this power station is officially registered as the largest nuclear power station in the Guinness Book of Records. But the reality of the power station is much different than its reputation. Two of its reactors were shut down for a time after the 2007 earthquake and the remaining reactors were taken offline for safety checks and maintenance due to public concerns about the safety of nuclear energy in the quake-prone country after Fukushima’s nuclear disaster.

However its operator Tokyo Electronic Power Co (TEPCO) hopes to get this power plant operating because they are overwhelmed by the soaring cost of fuel as well as radiation cleanup costs and compensation payments to displaced residents. TEPCO invited the Reuters multimedia team into the nuclear power plant in order to show their upgraded safety practice.

Have you seen this Fukushima child?

By Kim Kyung-Hoon

Near midnight on March 12th, 2011, I was looking for Fukushima evacuees who had fled from towns near the nuclear power plant hit by a massive tsunami and earthquake the day before, and was now leaking radiation.

On hearing the warnings of meltdown and radiation leaks at the nuclear plant, my colleagues and I drove west from Fukushima airport where we landed by helicopter with two very simple goals: stay as far away as possible from the nuclear power plant, and find the evacuees.

However, there was no clear information where to find the evacuees and how far away we had to stay from the nuclear plant to ensure our safety in the panicky and chaotic situation.

Fukushima’s invisible fear

By Issei Kato

These days, a mask, protective clothing and radiation counter have all become a usual part of reporting trips, as essential as a camera, lenses and a laptop. Soon, this situation will have gone on for a full year.

The 20 km (12 mile) zone around Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is now a virtual ghost town after being evacuated of residents due to radiation. I asked a friend, who was forced by the disaster to leave the area and has been searching for a way to resume work, for help, and was able to enter the area where he used to live.

The massive 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011 triggered the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years and forced residents around the plant to flee, leaving behind in many cases their household belongings or pets. The triple whammy is still forcing more than 150,000 people from Fukushima prefecture to take refuge, nearly half of them from the no-go zone.